Nikon 18-55mm Lens Review
By Scott Gietler
I looked into purchasing the Sigma 17-70mm lens, but I would need the lens, a new port extension, and a zoom ring - now we are potentially over $700, and my new lens budget is almost empty.
So I picked up a Nikon 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G ED II lens (not the VR version) for under $100, and a Hoya +2 diopter. I was quite pleased with the results!
Underwater setup that I tested
I used the lens with my Nikon D300 behind my Sea & Sea 8-inch dome port with no extension ring. It also fits behind a compact dome port + 20mm extension ring. I used the zoom ring for my tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens, which is actually the zoom ring for the canon 16-35mm F2.8 lens. It was a little large, but putting a strip of velcro over the 18-55mm lens allowed the zoom ring to fit on snugly. Since the lens has an auto-focus motor built in, it will auto-focus with any Nikon dSLR camera.
I found creative underwater photography, like zooming and panning, was easier to test using a mid-range zoom lens. F11, 1/3rd shutter speed, 34mm
Lens Magnification Ratio
I tested the magnification ratio at 55mm at slightly better than 3:1. With the hoya +2 diopter, I got almost 2:1 magnification, just as good as the Sigma 17-70mm! Of course I loose some magnification behind a dome port, but that will be true of any mid-range lens (I recommend using all mid-range lenses behind a dome port).
The lens does not have a great close-focus distance, but it is not bad either. Without the diopter, at 55mm it was 5 inches from the end of the lens, 9 inches from the back of the lens. The +2 diopter improved that to 3 1/2 inches working distance, and 7 1/2 inches from the back of the lens.
Underwater, the lens focused fairly fast, even in dimly-lighted conditions. When using a diopter, the lens sometimes couldn't focus on items very far away, because the virtual image in front of the dome port was just out of range of the lens.
Sample Nikon 18-55mm sharpness & underwater photos
I was pleasantly surprised with the sharpness of my photos. Although not as sharp as say, my nikon 60mm macro lens, sharpness was more than acceptable to me. Lighting the photos was much easier than lighting with my tokina 10-17mm fisheye on, and it was easy to shoot at small apertures like F10 or F14.
According to sharpness tests at Photodo, the sweet spot for the 18-55mm lens is F8-F11 at 18mm, F11-F16 at 35mm, and F14-F18 at 55mm. MTF results at the sweet spots actually looked better than the Sigma 17-70mm at 18mm and 35mm, and comparable at 55mm at F16, although the Nikon 18-55mm does not do well at 55mm from F5.6 to F8.
I suspect if I had shot with a smaller dome port, without a diopter, at wider apertures my results would not be as good, but I haven't confirmed this.
Sea fans, F14 at 18mm, using side-lighting and back-lighting.
Bat stars, F13, at 31mm focal length
Starfish, F20 at 55mm
Nikon 18-55mm Conclusions
This kit lens is a good mid-range choice for people who want an inexpensive addition to their arsenal for underwater photography, especially if they have been shooting mostly wide-angle and macro. For marine life photos, this range is ideal because you can frame skittish fish perfectly.
Stopped down, this lens performs well, which is easy to do if you are lighting your subject with strobes. If you need to shoot ambient light shots wide-open underwater, you might be better off with a different mid-range lens. If you are photographing fish, you can also use your macro lens behind a dome port.
- Camera lens basics
- Dome port optics
- Guide to Photographing Fish
- Best lenses for underwater photography
- Review: Canon 8-15 mm Fisheye Lens